When studying your web site traffic, it is important to be able to differentiate the above terms. A question that webmasters are often asked is "how many hits does your site get?". You then need to ask "do you mean hits, unique visitors or page views?". Many hit counters, such as the FrontPage 2000 component can be a little misleading. This particular hit counter only measures page views and if you sit on a page clicking the "refresh" button, it will increment. In order to get an accurate picture of your web site traffic flow; you'll probably want a more detailed reporting tool than this.
A hit is the result of a file being requested and served from your web site. This can be a html document, an image file, an audio track etc. etc. Web pages that contain a large number of elements will return high hit scores. Hits are of very little consequence when analysing your visitor demographics.
A page view means just that. Once again, it is not a true indication of how many different people are visiting your web site, but it is a good way to judge how "sticky" (the ability to retain the interest of visitors) your web site is and is an important consideration regarding the possibility of attracting high paying advertising.
A unique visitor is where stats really count. It is someone with a unique IP address (when you log onto the Internet, you are assigned a unique IP address, or if you are a cable modem user your IP address is usually "static", it never changes) who is entering a Web site for the first time that day (or some other specified period). Your IP address is an identifier, while you are using it, no else on the Internet can utilise that particular set of numbers. Your number is counted once, usually for a 2-24 hour period, dependent up the tracking software. So no matter how many times a visitor refreshes or navigates through your web site, they will only be counted once for the specified time period. This is by far the more accurate way of analysing web site performance.
When you divide the number of visitors by the number of page views, this can give an excellent indication of whether traffic is transient or is staying on your site. If the average is one page or under, you can be pretty sure that there is something on your pages that is scaring people off. Perhaps the load time is too slow or your opening statement is inappropriate. Remember that due to bandwidth considerations, those first few elements that display as your page is loading may be the deciding factor as to whether a visitor waits around for the entire page to load.
Studying your web site traffic can take up a fair amount of time, but it is definitely worth it. Of course in amongst all this you need to be able to make the time to carry out promotion, maintain linkages, develop new content etc etc etc. Running a large, content rich site is definitely not a part-time job!
Michael Bloch Taming the Beast http://www.tamingthebeast.net Tutorials, web content, tools and software. Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources
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